Preliminary evidence for differential olfactory and trigeminal processing in combat veterans with and without PTSD

Bernadette M. Cortese, Aicko Y. Schumann, Ashley N. Howell, Patrick A. McConnell, Qing Yang, Thomas W. Uhde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Structural and functional changes in the olfactory system are increasingly implicated in the expression of PTSD. Still, very little is known about the neurobiological networks of trauma-related odor sensitivity or how they relate to other objective and subjective measures of olfaction and PTSD. The purpose of this study was to replicate prior findings and further characterize olfactory function in trauma-exposed combat veterans with and without PTSD. We also sought to extend this area of research by exploring the effects of time since the combat-related index trauma (TST) on post-trauma olfactory function, as well as by correlating odor-elicited brain activity to general olfactory ability and odor-elicited PTSD symptoms. Participants included combat veterans with PTSD (CV+PTSD; n = 21) or without any psychiatric disorder (CV-PTSD; n = 27). TST was coded as greater (n = 24) or less (n = 24) than 5 years. There were main effects and/or interaction for PTSD-status and TST across several parameters of olfactory function: odor detection, odor identification, ratings for trauma-related odor intensity and triggered PTSD symptoms, and trauma odor-elicited brain activation. Overall, results suggest olfactory impairment in chronic PTSD, but not necessarily in the earlier stages of the disorder, although some early-stage olfactory findings may be predictive of later olfactory impairment. Results also suggest that trauma-exposed individuals who never develop PTSD may demonstrate olfactory resiliency. Finally, results highlight a potentially unique role of trigeminal odor properties in the olfactory-PTSD relationship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)378-387
Number of pages10
JournalNeuroImage: Clinical
StatePublished - 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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